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Wednesday May 9, 2001

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Legislative session gives UA mixed returns

By Eric Swedlund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Hull veto erases building renewal funds, but university officials hopeful money will be restored

PHOENIX - Despite overwhelming support from state lawmakers, UA funding for the next two years was dealt a crucial blow by Gov. Jane Hull during this year's legislative session.

On April 24, Hull used her line-item veto on several parts of the Legislature's $14.8 billion biennial budget, including the removal of university building renewal funding and faculty retention money.

UA lobbyist Greg Fahey said he remains hopeful that at least some of the building renewal funding can be restored in a special legislative session sometime in June.

"We have not given up," Fahey said. "We're still talking with the governor's office and legislators."

The building renewal funding Hull vetoed is worth about $27 million for the University of Arizona over the next two years.

"If we don't get the building renewal money it will be a devastating problem," Fahey said. "We'll have to cut budgets elsewhere to cover necessary fix-up. It's not glamorous, but it will really eviscerate the university's financial situation if we don't get some money restored."

The Legislature's budget set building renewal funding at 65 percent, but Hull's veto swept those funds away. Both Hull and lawmakers had proposed 100 percent building renewal funding at the beginning of the session.

Fahey said he doesn't expect lawmakers to reinstate any of the building renewal funding this month, but added if state revenue projections improve, a June special session could be called for the Legislature. Building renewal for the UA has been at 23 percent in each of the last two years.

"It's a big problem," Fahey said. "(Building renewal) has a lot to do with the quality of students' experience."

In addition to routine maintenance and work safety, the building renewal funding goes toward remodeling and upgrading classrooms. Fahey said that work has to be done, which will require re-allocation of other university funds.

Hull's other veto would cost the university a portion of $3 million that the Arizona Board of Regents would have had to use for retaining critical personnel. The funding proposal was an attempt to combat the "brain drain" created at Arizona's universities as quality faculty leave to take better-paying jobs.

Fahey said the session had mixed results for the UA, but he was pleased with several aspects.

University employees will benefit from the 5 percent pay raise that will be given to all state employees. Additionally, the UA will receive funding for several decision packages.

Lawmakers have recognized the heavy workload of many UA graduate teaching assistants and the proposal provides relief in the form of $1.5 million over the next two years that will go to hire about 104 new TAs.

Additional UA budget requests fulfilled include almost $1 million for the Arizona Health Sciences Center Phoenix campus, about $800,000 for the UA South campus in Sierra Vista, nearly $1 million for the university's share of construction and operation of a joint northwest campus with Pima Community College, and $2.5 million for equipment and construction for a conversion to digital television.

Also during the legislative session, the Arizona Students Association pushed for a bill to raise the state's contribution to free financial aid for low-income students.

Paul Peterson, ASA executive director, said the bill was scrapped at the end of the session because there was not enough funding available.

The student lobbying group requested the Legislature double the state's contribution to the Arizona Financial Aid Trust Fund. The fund takes 1 percent of each student's tuition and the state matches that money.

The bill would have increased the ratio to 2-to-1, but before being defeated, an amendment cut the increase to a 1.25-1 ratio.

During the trust fund's 10 years, Peterson said more than 18,000 students have received $16.6 million in financial aid.

The number of students receiving aid has increased each year, and Peterson said close to 3,000 students will get the aid for next year. This year, the fund gave about $2 million in free aid to needy students.

He said the bill will come back next year and the students will continue to work on raising the state's contribution to student financial aid.

"We'll keep being adamant about it until we get it through," Peterson said.